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Book Reviews: 24 April

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


Books-Apr24-Gorsky-176GORSKY by Vesna Goldsworthy (Chatto & Windus, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Russian Roman Gorsky isn’t just any oligarch about town. He is so wealthy that his new London home makes Buckingham Palace seem ‘like an ungainly box by a roundabout’. But he needs a library fit for his magnificent abode. And that’s where rare bookseller Nikola ‘Nick’ Kimovic comes in.

Gorsky’s commission changes down-at-heel Nick’s life, and he soon finds himself whisked off by private jet to the decadent pleasures of Gorsky’s Greek island. However, to Gorsky books are mere props – it is the fragrant, fur-wrapped Natalia, a barrister’s wife, that he truly longs to possess.

If the story sounds familiar, it’s because it is a reworking of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic The Great Gatsby. Goldsworthy’s debut novel carries off this daring homage with aplomb. The lives of the super-rich are convincingly sketched, and London’s fastchanging fabric – from the mansions of ‘Chelski’ to the melting pot of Victoria Coach Station – is brilliantly observed. A delicious, engrossing read.
Stephanie Cross

Books-Apr24-DefendingTheMotherland-176DEFENDING THE MOTHERLAND by Lyuba Vinogradova (MacLehose Press, £20; offer price, £16)
Throughout its violent history, the Soviet Union made full use of women in active combat roles. Vinogradova’s first book recounts the story of three all-female squadrons raised following the German invasion of Russia in 1941.

Like an invading general, any writer of Russian military history in the Second World War has to grapple with vast distances and huge numbers of people. Wisely, Vinogradova restricts her research to the activities of these squadrons from their formation to the Soviet counteroff ensive from Stalingrad in the winter of 1942.

Using the women’s letters home and the memories of the few surviving veterans, she assembles a vivid picture of the daily lives, loves and, too often, deaths of the female pilots, navigators and mechanics who were thrown into the front line to make up for the huge losses among male aircrew. Combat fatigue appears to have set in by the Battle of Kursk – and here Vinogradova lays down her pen. A more insightful analysis of how the Germans were overturned at Stalingrad and a better conclusion would improve this fascinating account.
Stephen Coulson

Books-Apr24-JakobsColours-176JAKOB’S COLOURS by Lindsay Hawdon (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
The title of this novel refers to the legacy handed to a Gypsy boy, whose father has taught him to read the landscape and ‘see the colours’.

Forced to go on the run during the Second World War, eight-yearold Jakob finds himself alone and defenceless in a menacing world. Yet, with only a cupboard door or undergrowth sheltering him, he will not forget the instinct for visual wonder instilled in him by his parents.

Tackling the story of the lesser-known Gypsy Holocaust, Hawdon writes powerfully and sensitively about individuals deriving courage from what they can empathise with, during a terrible time.
Philippa Williams


Books-Apr24-GodsAndKings-176Flawed rivals
GODS AND KINGS: The Rise And Fall Of Alexander McQueen And John Galliano by Dana Thomas (Allen Lane, £25; o‚ffer price, £20)
Most of us love a fight, a challenge, a face-off– and it is no different in the world of fashion. The names of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano will pass into costume history. And what a face-off theirs was.

In her entertaining and deliciously exhaustive book on the two internationally acclaimed designers, Dana Thomas carefully unravels their signature hallmarks and proclivities, their huge strengths and their similar and different weaknesses. McQueen committed suicide after a cocaine binge. Galliano was globally vilified for his very public racist rant in a Paris cafe – a suicide of sorts, perhaps?

Thomas’s intelligent prose allows the reader – even if not particularly interested in fashion – to acutely divine what a monster the industry is: the heart of wearable art with, paradoxically, no heart at all.

But for all that, both designers created unforgettable fashion theatre, the likes of which had never been seen before. Thomas describes with gusto several shows, and has interviewed more than 100 people close to the two designers.

This is the book that the fashion world was waiting for. Thomas’s eloquence is compelling, her prose fast and feisty – and she writes with a precision be tting a subject far more important than fashion.
Robin Dutt


GREAT ESCAPES EUROPE: Updated Edition by Shelley-Maree Cassidy and Angelika Taschen (Taschen, £27.99; offer price, £24.99)
If you are dreaming of getting away from it all in style, make this book your first port of call. From Scandi minimalism to Turkish opulence and Mediterranean gardens shaded by fig trees, it features a carefully curated selection of hotels that offer secluded serenity but are only a short-haul flight away.


Warmly inviting, atmospheric images showcase these heavenly hideaways – and each destination comes with its own reading list, books being an essential ingredient in any truly relaxing break. The perfect guide for planning your next escape – or daydreaming on your sofa.


NOVEL ON YELLOW PAPER by Stevie Smith (Virago, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
This timely reissue of poet Stevie Smith’s 1936 novel, which made her a celebrity overnight, comes with an insightful introduction by journalist Rachel Cooke. Pompey Casmilus, the narrator and Smith’s alter ego, writes on the office ‘yellow paper’ of the title while working as a secretary for a magazine-owning baronet. She skips effortlessly back and forth through her unconventional life, as a woman carving a creative path for herself in 1930s London. Her musings blend wit, irony, sharp social commentary and lyrical beauty – a tantalising tension of flinty edges and vulnerability. With echoes of Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, but in a wholly distinctive voice, this modernist masterpiece encapsulates a woman’s journey and an era.
Juanita Coulson

INDISCRETION by Hannah Fielding (London Wall, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
When Alexandra, a novelist in 1950s London, travels to Andalusia to meet long-lost relatives, she faces the tricky task of navigating her family’s complex politics – and falls for her handsome but unpredictable cousin, Salvador. Because of his dark past, their romance is fraught with drama, and the reader is swung around in a flurry of passion and denial towards an unexpected conclusion. A captivating tale of love, jealousy and scandal.
Rebecca Maxted


Landscape and place play vital roles in two recent collections of autobiographical poetry. By Juanita Coulson

Vikram Seth’s Summer Requiem (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99; offer price, £12.99) plunges us into a slow-paced, evocative world: the wilting tail end of summer. As the speaker lingers in a Venetian garden, by Scottish lochs, in cities and on beaches, detailed imagery anchors his elegiac reflections on love, literature and loss – with an Elizabethan emphasis on transience. Life itself, one poem suggests, is like an hourglass: ‘a fragile monument half-made by hands’. It is refreshing to see traditional forms used with such ease and fluency, only rarely sounding an archaic note. Shifting between haikus, rhyming couplets, tercets and sonnets of fine-tuned musicality, Seth’s display of technical dexterity pulses with the kind of warmth that can only come from the heart. A rare combination indeed in poetry today.

The way a landscape can shape personal and family history is central to Fleur Adcock’s The Land Ballot (Bloodaxe Books, £9.95; offer price, £9.45). The title refers to how her immigrant grandparents acquired a plot of bush in New Zealand’s North Island, and laboriously transformed it into viable farmland. Adcock plunders family diaries, reminiscences and contemporary news items to piece together the lives and inner worlds of various relatives. Varying in form and structure but all sharing the same conversational style, her lively narrative poems are interspersed with extracts from her original sources. The settler experience is powerfully captured in this imaginative exercise in resurrecting the dead.


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